BOOK REVIEW: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

"It's true that for years before he died, I would look at his face and think, What a pity, what a waste. But the waste was my own, the waste was what I missed out on whenever I looked at him and saw just his addiction."

As I've mentioned on our Instagram and Facebook pages, I recently signed up for a Battle of the Books. Of course all ten books that the questions will be coming from are books that 1) I've never heard of and 2) I've obviously never read. So I've made it my mission to read as many of the 10 books as possible before the Battle of the Books in September. Typically reading 10 books in a month and a half would be no problem, but all of the books on the list (which I'll share if you'd like - just leave a comment!) seem like they might be a bit heavy. Transcendent Kingdom is the second book on the list I've finished and while that's not a lot, it's by far my favorite.



Transcendent Kingdom is about Gifty, a second generation Ghanaian immigrant and PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford. Her experiments study reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Gifty is determined to use the hard sciences to understand the scientific basis for these conditions. She's hoping to better understand, and alleviate the pain, associated with these conditions because of her own experiences. Her brother, once a star athlete, died of a heroin overdose after a basketball injury introduced him to opioids. Her mother, a strong yet delicate woman, is now living in her bed, unable to move due to her depression. Throughout Transcendent Kingdom, we learn the story of Gifty's life and her struggle to reconcile the faith she had in her childhood (and wishes she could reclaim) with the science she surrounds herself with on a daily basis.


In many ways I felt very connected to this book despite having a vastly different upbringing. I grew up in Alabama (farther south than Huntsville where part of this story takes place), I worked as an administrator in a division that conducted research, and have had depression and addiction weaved into my own life story, whether it be from my own experiences or experiences of those close to me. Gifty's struggle with trying to find answers to help her understand and come to terms with the aftermath of depression and addiction hit home for me.


Despite the personal connection with this book, I also loved learning about Gifty's experiences as a second generation Ghanaian immigrant, both during her time in the US, and also when she spent a summer in Ghana. Gifty's struggle to reconcile her childhood faith with her experiences and future in science are beautifully written and are respectful to both religion and science. I just cannot say enough good things about how the story is weaved together to create the timeline of Gifty's life.



Overall I give Transcendent Kingdom 5 stars. The book is thought provoking, beautifully written, and really just a book that touches that your heart. I've already wanted to read The 1619 Project, which I just learned Yaa Gyasi is a contributing author for, and now I want to add Homegoing to my TBR list. I will be anxiously waiting for more of Yaa Gyasi's future writing.


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